Strength Grown from Kindness

Fourth main installment in the Tutelary Spirit universe. Recommended reading order: Loyalty, Honesty, Generosity, Kindness, Laughter, and Friendship.
Many ages after the original adventures of the Elements of Harmony, a young soldier tells his story of when he met the Element of Kindness. And this story, like many of the stories about the Elements of Harmony, entails Kindness herself imparting a lesson of friendship to the one who needs it most.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/237473/strength-grown-from-kindness

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3. The Mare of Kindness

"Steelwork..."

"Hey, Steel, it's time to wake up..."

"C'mon, bro, get your butt out of bed already. Ma can't work the lumber mill herself, y'know?"

"Hmm? No, I'm actually Griffonia's Emperor of the Northern Wind, here to lay claim to this land and spread the word of the bird—of course it's me! Now hurry up and—Agh! Hey! Get off of me!"

"Jeez, calm down..."

"Where was I? I was at the academy; had to stay overnight for a team exercise. Why? What's got you so excited that you need to jump on me like I'm your own personal trampoline?

"You need to show me something? What do you—"

"....Well buck me sideways! You've got your mark! AH HA HA HA! So the Three Crusaders finally decided to buck a brand on your rear end, eh? 'Bout time, I'd say! Your bare backside was really becoming an eyesore; glad you've finally got something to cover it up and spare us all the sight of it. So when was this? Was this while I was at the academy? And how'd you even get it? C'mon, bro, spill!"

"..."

"Pfft—AHAHAHA! FLOWER-ARRANGING! HA HA! THAT'S ADORABLE! HA HA—OW! Hey! Hey! I'm just joshing ya! So wipe that sour look off your face! I know those flowers were for the memorial, which makes it the most masculine of flower-arranging. So don't act so defensive 'cause you didn't get your mark while doing something amazing. Alright? ...Alright."

"So... a laurel wreath, eh? Do you know what it means? And more importantly, does this mean that you've finally decided on what you're gonna do with your life? Because if so, please, share, because I'd love to know what beat out the twenty-five-something prior careers that you were just sooo dead set on."

"..."

"Oh..."

"—No, no! It's fine! It's a great path to go on and I'm very proud of you and everything."

"It's just that..."

"Mom's gonna be really lonely here at home if both of her boys are off marching in the military, ya know?"

"..."

"Well anyways... mark or no mark, you've still gotta wake up."

"So c'mon, bro, wake up..."

"Wake up..."

"There's a certain Mare you have to talk to..."

Warmth surrounded him.

Like that of a dense fog hugging the surface of a warm lagoon did the young pony known as Steelwork emerge out of the starry sea of dreams that were his slumber, only to be enveloped by the bask of warmth and comfort that culled his desire to open his eyes. Such warmth beckoned him back into the depths of the Moon Princess's domain with invitation more enticing than even those of his foalhood embraces with his mother when he suckled from her teat.

With great effort, the young pony's eyelids lifted upward ever so slightly to beholden a sight so blurred by his dreariness that all he could make out was the color of butterscotch. As his head and muzzle rested upon the softest fur he had ever experienced in his life, that when put in comparison would make cloud-made pillows seem as rough as bedrock, the blaring light of the sun was shielded from him bar a few streams of light by the comfort of gentle feathers that blanketed his form.

The butterscotch body of warmth that he rested upon shifted slightly, and the warm wings over him hugged him closer to that warmth.

The teenage pony's eyelids fell, and this lulling embrace of warmth and comfort let him slip back into the rolling waves of the sea of dreams.

"DO I HAVE TO REPEAT MYSELF, CADET!?"

"WHEN A SUPERIOR OFFICER TELLS YOU TO JUMP, YOU JUMP AND PRAY TO THE SWEET MARES OF HARMONY THAT YOU JUMPED HIGH ENOUGH TO MEET THEIR STANDARDS!"

"SO WHEN I TELL YOU TO WAKE UP, I FULLY EXPECT YOU TO LEAP UP INTO THE AIR AND SHOUT—"

"I'm awake, sir!" shouted out Steelwork with a slight twinge of panic in his voice as he sprung up straight into a sitting position; the dirt and gravel under him scratching at his rear end as he opened his eyes to find himself in a blurry cave, with an even blurrier entrance to this cave gaping open directly in front of him. Where beyond details of the outside world could not be made out because of said blurriness.

Raising up a hoof to rub out the obscuring gunk in his eyes, the young, teenage pony of black coat and white mane looked about his surroundings in confusion, his drowsy mind doing its best to wonder how in Equestria he had ended up in an unknown cave that he knew not where.

But before any conclusion could be begotten from this wondering did suddenly a claw of thick fur immediately wrap around his rigid form and pull the young Steelwork back into the mass of dark fuzz that he had previously been resting on.

Which just so happened to take the shape of a large black bear.

"Eep!" eeped out Steelwork in probably a much more high-pitched tone than he would have liked to admit as he found himself forcibly snuggled into the neck of a snoring bear, whose every grunt of slumber revealed rows of sharp teeth. How ironic it was, that he as a young foal used to snuggle a teddy bear of his own in his sleep, to now find himself in a mirrored situation with the roles reversed.

Trapped between a bear and a hard place, Steelwork's eyes dashed around the interior of the cave in hopes of finding some solution for him to escape out of the bear's grasp. But alas it was a hopeless endeavor; there was nothing for him to use and attempting to struggle out of the bear's grasp risked waking the large beast. It seemed that his only chance for freedom now was to pray and wait for the black bear to toss and turn in its sleep, and hope that it released him during so.

But such an opportunity of escape had no need of presenting itself anytime soon, for it was now that another and much more annoying opportunity arrived.

Pistoning through the cave's entrance as a mass of luminescent light arrived the moon rabbit. Who now stood before the sleeping bear and snuggled pony with a raised eyebrow on its slightly grumpy expression.

Steelwork stared at the rabbit.

The rabbit stared back.

Next to him, the bear let out a loud snore.

The moon rabbit then swiftly pulled out a leafy stick from behind its back; brandishing it as a devious smile grew on the rabbit's face.

Steelwork's eyes widened in terror, 'Oh sweet, merciful Celestia—'

*THWACK!* Went nature's wooden finger against the face of the innocently snoozing bear.

And the bear immediately sprung up on its hind legs with a ferocious roar escaping out of its maw, "UURRAAUUGH!" it screamed out as the powerful roar reverberated off of the cavern walls. Now rudely awaken and with a stinging sensation across its wet nose, this towering beast of predatory muscle and bulk gazed down at whomever it was that dared walk into its home and awake the sleeping giant.

Eyes that were boiling with anger came to rest on the minuscule moon rabbit, whose paws were crossed as it returned an equally fierce glare back at the large bear while its foot repeatedly thumped the ground in an impatient manner.

Seeing that it had the bear's attention, the moon rabbit snapped a paw at the larger animal's chest.

Looking down, the bear was only slightly surprised to find the young Steelwork within its grip, who, having been forcibly taken along with in the bear's sudden and swift vertical rise, was quite glad that his bladder had already been emptied some time ago. If he hadn't, then this whole thing would have turned into a much more stickier situation for him then it already currently was.

With a candid snort, the bear released the young stallion from its grip, allowing the pony to fall to the cave floor like an unwanted bag of groceries.

"Oomph!" grunted out Steelwork in repercussion to this unwantedness as he harshly landed on his tailside. This rough landing of his rear-end though was far from his current worries, as now that he was out of the bear's grasp, he immediately took this opportunity to swiftly distance himself from the large predator. Finding himself behind the moon rabbit, Steelwork gazed back at the bear, fearful of what the rudely awaken animal was going to do now.

The bear though paid the young pony no mind as it stretched out its paws with a great, mighty yawn. It then promptly collapsed back onto the cavern floor, its head tucked under its furry arms as it pointedly ignored the small intruders within its home.

"Snuurk..." loudly snored the bear, somehow achieving deep slumber instantly to what would be the immeasurable envy of insomniacs across the world over if they had witnessed it.

Steelwork though just breathed out a sigh of relief in seeing that the bear wasn't going to maul him to bloody pieces for interrupting what was no doubt the midst of a well-deserved nap.

The moon rabbit leaped up and grabbed a hold of Steelworks left ear, pulling it down and dragging the young stallion's head along with it as gravity did its magic on the moon rabbit's return journey to the ground.

"Ow!" grunted out Steelwork in irritation as his ear was pulled, before giving the moon rabbit a look of annoyance.

But the moon rabbit payed no mind to the young pony's irritation, casually dismissing it as a snooty, high-class waiter would do to the presence of a homeless pony. Instead, the moon rabbit simply beckoned the pony to follow it once again as it began hopping over to the cave's entrance.

After a moment's hesitation, Steelwork did indeed follow after the rabbit. Not that he had any other choice, really. He sure as Tartarus wasn't going to willingly stay in the bear's cave, that's for sure.

So through the cave's entrance did Steelwork go, the loud snores of the dozing bear reverberating off of the cavern walls behind him as he followed the luminous tail of the moon rabbit and out into the daytime shine. With a hoof over his eyes to shield himself from the glaring light of the rising sun, Steelwork found himself once again under the forest's roof of branches and leaves that he was so familiar with.

Except he wasn't at all familiar with this setting. He did not recognize any of these trees that surrounded him, these trees that seemed so much sparser from each other than the ones near his home

What was even more distressing was the warmth of the low sun on Steelwork's dark coat that signaled the arrival of the morning day. It had been the middle of the night when he fell into unconsciousness... hadn't it? It was hard to remember what the exact time was after his... episode. However long it was, the fact that it was now morning meant that he had been gone from home for an entire night. His mother would no doubt be worried to tears that he'd been gone so long. While this wouldn't be the first time he'd spent an entire night in the forest alone, considering how he left and the news that they had just received...

He needed to get home, now. For his mother's sake.

The only problem to this was that he had no idea where he was.

But he might know someone who does.

"I need to get home," spoke up Steelwork as he followed behind the bouncing moon rabbit moving though the forest, whose glowing body was now like a bright glare of light within the sun's rays.

The moon rabbit did not stop its lazy hopping, but it did angle its head slightly for one of its beady eyes to give Steelwork a look.

"Please, I know you can understand me," continued Steelwork, "I mean, if you can magically turn into a ball of light, then understanding what us lowly equines are saying shouldn't be a problem for you. I just want to get home so my mom doesn't have to worry."

The moon rabbit stopped its hopping and turned about to face the young pony, a gruff expression on its nose. And then, in its ever silent manner, the rabbit pointed a paw at Steelwork's side.

Steelwork directed his gaze over his body to find a wrapping of gauze tied around his torso. A detail he had missed this entire time. If he remembered correctly, he had surmounted a considerable number of scrapes and bruises on his nightly tumble through the forest, with a particularly nasty gash that had left him with an annoying stinging sensation in his side.

It seemed that he had been thoroughly cleaned up during his impromptu time spent in the Moon Princess's domain. In fact, besides some traces of dirt he had received during the debacle with the bear, all of the mud and twigs that had been stuck to his body from the night before were completely gone. Strangely enough, even all of the scrapes and cuts on his body seemed to have been completely healed, with nary a bandage or a scar to indicate that they had ever been there in the first place.

And that's when it hit Steelwork as memories of gentle eyes flashed to the forefront of his mind.

"You're taking me to the pony that healed me," realized Steelwork.

In answer, the moon rabbit hopped up and gave the young stallion a light bop on the nose.

Slightly startled at this, Steelwork rubbed his nose, "Okay... I guess I'm 'right on the nose' on that one," he mumbled to himself, before addressing the moon rabbit once again, "So who is he—or she? Will they lead me home? In fact, what are they even doing in this forest? Closest town is over thirty miles away. Are they hikers or explorers or something?"

The moon rabbit stared at Steelwork with furrowed brows and a disappointed expression that seemed to visually ask, 'Have you seriously not figured out who it is yet? Like... seriously?'

Steelwork rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, "Right, what am I doing? It's not like you can answer any of my questions anyhow. You're a rabbit," said Steelwork sheepishly as he completely missed the meaning of the moon rabbit's visual cues.

In response to this, luminous paw commenced collision with disappointed rabbit face.

That is to say the moon rabbit face-palmed itself with a greater magnitude of disappointment than that felt by a particularly legendary sea captain who had to regularly deal with the antics of Discord on his many enterprising voyages.

Wordlessly, the moon rabbit turned about and began hopping away without even checking to see if Steelwork was following.

Tailing the peeved mystical rabbit, Steelwork trotted along in silence.

"So..." began Steelwork again, "are you like this pony's pet or something..."

The moon rabbit picked up an acorn.

Steelwork wisely decided to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the trek through the forest.

Following the rabbit through the shade of the sparse canopy, it was not long before the young stallion was led to beautiful grove of open sky. Here he was greeted with a rainbow of floral colors that stretched out before him like an aurora born of the land; a field of beautiful flowers that grew so vibrantly in the light of the rising sun. At the far end of this colorful clearing of petals and stems was a natural pool of water that glimmered in the rays of daylight. Formed by the low waterfall that hanged over the short rise of land, gentle streams flowed out of the pool in slithering patterns across the field and deep into the depths of the forest.

It was, to Steelwork, one of the most serene sights he had ever bared witness to in his entire life.

Or at least it would be, if it weren't for the massive gathering of animals that were currently inhabiting it.

Racoons, foxes, badgers, squirrels, rabbits—not those of light and magic, but of regular fur and flesh—they were all gathered together in the field of tulips and lilies. Among them were also the larger predators that were wolves and cougars, with each of the carnivorous animals incurring no fear in their prey as they meandered about near them. Even the songbirds and swans that were fluttering about were not afraid to place themselves on the ground near so many animals.

For somepony that was very much aware of the workings of the animal kingdom within the forest, this was, all in all, a very unusual sight for Steelwork. To see so many animals in one place, to see so many predators and prey near each other without conflict, it honestly baffled him.

"What the... how? What is going on?" pondered aloud Steelwork as he followed the moon rabbit into the mishmash collection of animals. He had never seen anything like this before. Animals don't just forget about their instincts or pretend that their place in the food-chain is no longer relevant. And yet here they were, with racoons bounding by resting wolves without danger while other such prey-and-predator relationships were being so casually dismissed around him.

But it was soon that the question of why these animals were so peaceful around each other was swiftly flung to the back of Steelwork's mind and forgotten as a new question took its place. For however much peace there was in this field of lilies and tulips, why did the young pony's presence seem to disturb it?

As Steelwork trotted through the field of lilies and tulips, the animals around him reacted with an overall air of distrust and wariness. Squirrels darted through beds of flowers at his approach, the small songbirds fluttered away into the air when his hooves neared, and even a badger hissed threateningly at him.

Trepidation grew within Steelwork as he ventured further into this horde of animals, culminating into a real fear when a cougar suddenly snarled at him and levied him with a hunter's glare. Terrified, the young stallion was stricken still as the feline predator slowly approached him. He knew that if he ran, the cougar would chase him; though it didn't seem that standing still was doing him any favors either.

Luckily for him, he had a 'guardian angel' of sorts who was once again going to save his behind.

Before the cougar could take another step closer to Steelwork did a flash of luminous light climb up his neck and place the moon rabbit on top of the young pony's head. He wasn't able to see it, but Steelwork could practically feel the glare that the moon rabbit was dishing out to the cougar by sheer proximity of it. Unlike the black bear back in the cave though, it did not seem that whatever authority that the rabbit seemed to have in this forest was going to cut it this time as the cougar wasn't backing down from the bunny's ire.

Stuck in this awkward tension between a cougar and a rabbit, Steelwork could only wonder how he kept up ending in situations like this.

"Meow?" came the quiet mewl originating from below.

Steelwork glanced down at the patch of tulips he was standing in, and there, sitting right between his forelegs, was a mountain lion cub, looking up at him with an innocent curiosity; head cocked to the side and everything.

'Oh.'

"I'm sorry," spoke up Steelwork, eyes locked with the mother cougar's as he slowly backed away from the cub, "I didn't mean to get between you and your cub."

The little mountain lion cub moved to follow after the funny-looking hooved animal with the moon rabbit on top of its head, but the cub was quickly nabbed by its mother, who carried off the young feline by the nape of its neck in her mouth.

Breathing a sigh of relief at seeing the cougar leave him be, Steelwork glanced up appreciatively at the moon rabbit atop his head, "Thanks," he said.

The luminous and not-at-all-prideful moon rabbit leapt off of Steelwork's head, taking the time to ostentatiously wipe away the invisible dirt and dust that had accumulated in the confrontation, before turning around to give the young pony a gruff look that expressly made clear that he had better appreciate all that he had to do for the overgrown brat. The moon rabbit then turned about and hopped over to the pool of water, with Steelwork following closely behind.

When the rabbit and pony reached the bank of the pool, Steelwork found that there was a trail of flat stepping stones rising out just above the surface of the water. Each of these steps were as wide as Steelwork was tall and together they all led to the waterfall.

The moon rabbit hopped onto the first stone, then the next, bounding to each one like they were a forgotten trail of footfalls left behind in the snow. After a moment's hesitation, Steelwork followed after and jumped onto the first stone, slightly relieved that the stone was stable enough for his weight and that it didn't weeble-wobble back into the water. He jumped to the next and continued onward after the rabbit.

Half-way across the pool, Steelwork suddenly stopped in his tracks, his eyes focusing on the waterfall before him.

The waterfall wasn't like those huge torrents of gushing water that careened off of the side of a mountain. It was smaller, only a few meters high, and its waters flowed over the incline of land like aqua curtains draped over a mantle piece. Behind it was a cave that was no doubt dank and mossy from the falling water. The orange illumination of candles and lanterns behind the waterfall's curtain revealed a hidden shrine of wood and stone in the shape of an equine; most likely devoted to the guardian spirit of the forest.

...And tending to this shrine was the figure of a lithe pegasus of yellow butterscotch color, blurred only from a perfect view by the cascade of the waterfall.

On the last stepping stone before the waterfall, where the air was thick with flying droplets and mist, the moon rabbit condensed into a ball of luminous light and zipped through the watery curtain; appearing next to the pegasus and gaining her attention. Steelwork could see through the blurry curtain of water the moon rabbit hopping up and down and pointing in his direction.

The butterscotch figure turned her head towards the young stallion.

A moment's wait later and a wing emerged through the waterfall, dividing the water like that of a slanted roof in the rain and creating an opening for the butterscotch pegasus to duck under as she stepped into the the twilight morning.

And Steelwork finally came face to face with those warm eyes of blue once again.

The mare before him was like all of the serene beauties of nature given equine form: with a supple body of a yellow butterscotch coat and a pair of swan-like wings of similar color, her every movement was as gentle and as graceful as the petals of a flower blowing in the wind. Her slender form, taller than what most mares usually achieved, was like a natural-born runway model become a mother: all of the lithe fitness of a beautiful mare combined with the pleasant aura of doting compassion.

Her mane and tail were a floral pink as vibrant as the scattering blossoms of a cherry tree, and curtained over her form like the hanging leaves of a willow tree. So in-tuned with nature was this mare that from out of the folds of her mane and tail bloomed flowers of lilies and daffodils, growing from her hair as naturally as a flowerbed does from soil. Across her form, vines of green leaves encircled up her legs and all the way up to her mark of fluttering butterflies.

This beautiful nymph of the forest turned her head, parting her floral mane to reveal a face of purity—not of innocent purity, but that of indomitable goodness. Her soft, youthful features seemed to be permanently etched with a compassionate empathy for those around her, and her large, blue eyes were filled with so much warmth and motherly comfort that it was practically impossible for one to not feel safe around this kind mare.

And what a kind mare this was, for this was none other than the Mare of Kindness herself; the tutelary patron of compassion and empathy, standing before Steelwork under that waterfall like the beautiful angel she was.

Her warm eyes gazed upon the young stallion in front of her, slight surprise in those blues at the sight of him before quickly being filled with pleasant delightfulness as a gentle smile graced her expression, "Oh, hello there," she greeted, her voice as soft as a warm breeze, "I'm glad to see you're awake."

With a small jump and an outstretching of her wet wings, she glided to the flat stepping stone in front of Steelwork. Landing, she looked over his form keenly, "You've healed up quite nicely, I see. Most of your cuts and bruises from last night are gone, though I'll have to look under the gauze to see how that nasty cut fared. Hopefully you've learned your lesson about running through the forest in the dark."

Steelwork didn't say anything.

After a moment's pause of silence, the Gentle Mare continued on, "Um... I hope you weren't startled waking up next to Mrs. Grizzly. I needed to check on the shrine and I didn't want to move you too much while you were unconscious, so I left you in the care of Mrs. Grizzly. I know her to be very protective of young and I knew that I could trust her to keep you safe from..." she hesitated, the right words forming in her head, "...from the dangers of the forest."

Once again, Steelwork said nothing.

The Mare of Kindness stood there, her smile faltering as the young stallion's silence continued; the lack of response more deafening than the splashing sounds of the waterfall behind her. Awkwardly, she began rapping her hoof against the flat stepping stone, before her face perked up in realization, "Oh! I'm sorry. I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm—"

"—Fluttershy," Steelwork choked out, his head downcast as his alabaster mane covered his eyes, "You're Fluttershy, the Mare of Kindness. ...I know who you are."

The Mare of Kindness hesitated, slightly taken aback at his sudden interruption, but then her warm eyes cooled into sorrowful recognition and she slowly let out a resigned sigh. "Oh," she said without doubt, before turning her head away from the young stallion to rest her gaze on the morning sun's shimmering reflection in the pool surrounding them, "...So you must be Steelwork then."

"I am," answered Steelwork, raising his head up so that his red, tearful eyes could look at the Mare of Kindness fully.

"And you're who my brother gave his life defending."

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